WASHINGTON — When Joann Courtland, director of the Copperas Cove-based Operation Stand Down-Central Texas, was told to pack her bags Wednesday for a trip to the nation’s capital, she wasn’t quite sure what was going on.
She was told that U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, was flying her out to attend the Texas State Society Black Tie and Boots ball to bring attention to the work the nonprofit does to help homeless veterans and bring them back into society. So she packed her bags, hopped on a plane Thursday morning and flew to Washington, D.C.
“I just thought he would talk about our organization in front of fellow Texans and allow for people who wanted to sponsor or donate to do so,” Courtland said. “It was full of 10,000-plus folks from all over the state.”
What the Copperas Cove resident and former Army warrant officer didn’t know, however, was her organization was in for a treat. Toyota of Texas had a surprise in store for her — a brand-new custom Toyota Tundra pickup truck to help haul much-needed donations and provide rides for poor and homeless veterans to appointments at the Temple Veterans Affairs hospital.
“I was hoping for some monetary help, that was all. I had no idea that this was coming, and we as an organization are truly blessed,” she said. “I feel so very blessed and happy to be a Texan and humbled by all the attention. I mean, I was followed by the Beach Boys, if you can believe that!”
The congressman said he was happy to help out.
“As president of the Texas State Society, it is an honor to highlight all the great work Operation Stand Down has done for our veterans back home,” Williams said. “I thank Toyota for making their donation, as I believe this is a wonderful charity.”
The donation and spotlight for the nonprofit, which holds two stand-down events annually at the Texas Army National Guard Armory in Killeen, was overwhelming, she said.
“I mean, I’m a regular person from a small town. Who does this happen to? It’s like the lottery,” Courtland said.
The nonprofit collects clothing, toiletries, backpacks and other items throughout the year to share with the homeless. The stand-downs bring in volunteers to offer the homeless showers, haircuts, medical care and meetings with Veterans Affairs and Texas Veterans Commission representatives in an effort to bring the homeless back into society, Courtland said.
In a 2015 point-in-time count of area homeless, Bell and Coryell counties had 535 homeless people. Of those, 31 percent reported they were veterans, Courtland said. The 2016 count reported 515 homeless persons, with about 18 percent veterans.
“It’s self-reported, and many don’t want to admit they’re veterans,” Courtland said.
The next point-in-time court for the homeless in Bell and Coryell counties is on Thursday.
The next stand-down is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 22 at the armory, she said.